IT takes a special character to be a goalkeeper — and something even more to be happy to accept life as a No 3.
Training hard day in, day out. Travelling home and away across Europe for not much more than a seat in the stands watching others play in games.
That has been Lee Grant’s life for the last three years since joining Manchester United from Derby, limited to just two games in the Carabao Cup and Europa League.
But for the 38-year-old, there is method in what some would say is madness.
He said: “It doesn’t matter how long into your career you are, you still find that frustration on a Saturday when you’re not playing.
“I know I’m at Manchester United, you’ve got some of the best goalkeepers in the world in front of you but you still have that personal pride and professionalism. You want to play. In one respect being a No 3 here is ideal.
“Then in another respect, if you speak to my wife, she’ll say, ‘I need to get him playing because he comes home and from one minute to the next, I don’t know what I’m dealing with’.
“I’m walking in like a zombie moaning that I’m still good enough to play and I’m training my b***s off, working at a hard level.
“I then want that reward at the end, which is the weekend’s game. And that’s the bit you miss.
“Sometimes she’ll say, ‘Just go and play then if it’s doing your head in that much’. And then I’ll go, ‘Well, what’s the big picture again?’.”
The big picture in Grant’s mind is retirement looming on the horizon, a step into coaching and management — and a choice to be made in coming months about his future as his contract runs down.
He finds himself split on the nagging thought he knows he can still cut it as a goalkeeper in the professional game but that he is in a role he loves that offers opportunities vital to his career post-retirement.
He said: “I’m looking at what next year looks like for me. An ideal scenario would be that United are loving what they are getting from me and let’s look at another year. But I’ve got a look at it from my own perspective.
“Do I want to spend whatever time is left of my career, doing what I’m doing?
“Or do I want to go and have one last hurrah somewhere, a little swan song?”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opened up the doors to the coaching rooms to Grant and the former Stoke and Burnley keeper has been like a sponge learning from the manager and his coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.
But it is likely to only be when Solskjaer and United know what their plans are for their keepers when Grant will know what path his career takes in the next year.
In the meantime his education goes on, not least taking notes on how Solskjaer has handled the first-team opportunities handed to David De Gea and Dean Henderson to keep them both happy.
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He added: “We’re seeing it now at our football club with Dean and David, and I think the manager’s handled that situation wonderfully well because, actually, at the start of the season there were big question marks on how that was going to work and the dynamics within the group.
“He’s managed to keep two very good goalkeepers happy.
“There are lots of ifs, buts and maybes to happen between now and the end of the season with other goalkeepers and their situations.
“Currently you’ve got David, Deano and myself as the three senior keepers.
“And then we’ve got a young lad, Nathan Bishop, who is a wonderful young talent.
“There’s lots of water to go under the bridge with Sergio Romero and his situation, the young keepers and whether they will be going out on loan for experience — which would then maybe mean that there are still opportunities here for me, so I don’t know.
“Part of the reason I came here was that I get a chance and the opportunity to be around top players, World Cup winners, Champions League winners, Premier League winners, and be in that elite environment.
“I want to coach and I want to manage, you see.
“So being at Manchester United gives me a wonderful platform to go on and do that stuff.
“The managers here — Jose Mourinho was brilliant, Ole’s been first class as well, in terms of the access they give me, just to be in, in and around the coaching side of things as well.
“The two first-team coaches, Kieran and Michael, are always quality with me. “I’m always in the office with them chucking ideas around.
“And they’re great, they allow me to come and sit in on the analysis for games.
“And since Project Restart you had a reduction in amount of traveling staff to games and it gave us a dilemma as a club because the manager likes me to be around and travel everywhere we go.
“So he rejigged it and they had me down as a member of staff instead of a player so I could travel — literally to the degree where I had coaches gear on, had my initials on the kit, which was quite funny for rest of the lads.
“It was brilliant — I’m sitting at the front of the bus or plane with the coaches, my hotel room was in a different room to the players, I had to sit with the staff on match days.
“On the coach I’m downstairs sat next to the gaffer and for probably four or five minutes it felt odd but then strangely I quite enjoyed the transition.
“The gaffer was brilliant, he wasn’t like, ‘Oh, s Granty is sat down here, we can’t have a conversation about x, y, or z’. In fact, it was the opposite, they actually welcomed me in.
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“That side of it for me, and part of the reason why I love being here, is because I get that opportunity.
“I am glad I still have the hunger. But I absolutely see the benefits for me being here.
“And I think that one of the big things is I always I feel valued here.”